Monday, October 27, 2014

Ugandan Events

These past few weeks I have had the opportunity to attend 
several events in my community. A Ugandan event is a lot like
 an American event but at the same time a lot different.
 First let’s start with the concept of time. When you say 10:00 am to an American they will most likely arrive a few minutes before 10 just to make sure they are there on time; you never want to be the last one to walk in…people will stare. When you say 10:00 am to a Ugandan, I am pretty sure they hear is “come sometime after 10, maybe 11 if you can make it by 12 it would be great”. What I have learned: do not go hungry or without something to keep you occupied because you will wait and wait.

Now let’s start with the actual event and what happens. It’s similar to the U.S. there is the opening where you have the anthems, opening remarks and prayers but then we move into speeches. The only thing, Ugandans absolutely love speeches. I’m pretty sure there is a rule that each speaker must speak for twice as long as the one before. Also, at the beginning of each speech you thank every single person that is important, even if everyone before you has already done it; it’s really a big deal. If you are the only obujungu “white person” then expect each of them to thank you for being there. They will call you out, have you stand up and you will more than likely be expected to make a speech; being shy of talking in front of large groups of people will be something you soon get over.

Then there is the entertainment. Ugandans are great at entertainment. Expect a DJ blaring old school songs. Maybe some Backstreet here and there mixed with Ugandan hits and country but you cannot forget country, they love it. Then there is the cultural dancing and singing. Pretty much everyone can dance, even the babies can shake their hips.

After all the speeches are over, which takes hours, and the entertainment is finished there is food and lots of it. And, no event goes without sodas, it is pretty much expected. There will be matooke (mashed and steamed plantains), Rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, some millet (still don’t know exactly what it is, think brown silly putty), posho (basically mashed humus), beans, beef, chicken, goat , soups and some greens. You don’t have to worry about taking too much because everyone else will have their plates stacked high. Also, do not count on silverware being available, most people in Uganda eat with their hands and you will too.

Afterwards the dancing will begin. That’s a typical Ugandan event. They are amazing experiences and I am happy I have had the opportunity to attend so many already.

 Next up, an introduction ceremony and wedding, I heard they are a blast!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

It’s My Birthday and I’ll....

…….eat all the Snickers if I want to!

My 21st and 25th birthdays will officially be remembered as ones spent in faraway foreign lands. The big 2-1, the rite of passage for the official adulthood in the States for drinking, and the big 2-5 the age to rent a car in most places or realizing you are now a 1/4 of a century old both celebrated in places where neither of those American concepts exist. My 21st birthday was in the Netherlands; imagine having to literally beg the person behind the counter to ask for your ID as you purchase your first bottle of vodka. Now imagine being in a country where most people do not even know when they were actually born, it is hard to fathom such a thing. Here is Uganda however, that’s the fact of life. You ask someone when their birthday is you may get a reply of “I don’t know”. 

How I spent my day of birth…..It has been just any another day in Uganda but there was a celebration, just not for me. The in-charge at the health center has been accepted to a program to further his studies as a doctor and we had a celebration for him. Motorcade, speeches…lots of speeches (even one by yours truly), yummy food, stung by wasp type insect (ya… it hurt), lots of dancing and now relaxing in bed eating a bunch of Snickers one of the nurses was nice enough to pick up while in another town. So that's the first of 2 birthdays in Uganda. 
Hello 25!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Name is Ashley Green and I Have a Problem

So my mother sent me an awesome care package and it arrived this past week. It was filled with so many good things and food that I really could not resist. The bad thing is, I am by myself and I have ate every single sweet thing that she sent in the matter of only two days. The only food items remaining are: the oatmeal and grits (although they are almost gone, I've been eating breakfast dinners), the packaged meats (since I have to heat them first and that takes energy) and Matt’s coffee (I don’t drink coffee). I think I have a problem, but will have better self-control next time. 
I Promise!

Awesome Care Package. Thanks Mom!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

World Food Day

Today is World Food Day and Ashley has officially started her first project. One need that has been identified is nutrition education. But beyond the education, which many people have, is the need for a basic knowledge of is the application in their daily life. Here is where Ashley’s first project starts, collaborating with her counterparts, they trained farmers on nutrition and a community garden project. We chose the week leading up to World Food Day, its focus “feeding the world, caring for the earth”.

Project Overview:
The main goal was to reach rural small-scale farmers in the communities by providing them  with information and knowledge on nutrition as well as demonstrating and providing initial seedlings for kitchen gardens for household consumption. The hope is that these training sessions will help disseminate knowledge about nutrition as well as help provide a well balanced diet to families where foods high in vitamins are not readily available or being utilized.

We started by identifying farmers groups already receiving training. These groups were chosen due to their high involvement with previous training and their willingness to adapt and utilize new skills and knowledge. Ultimately, we decided on three groups for this planting season.

Long term we hope to be able to expand nutrition outreach to farmers to include all active farmers groups in the communities  as well as pregnant mothers and mothers to those less than five years old receiving care at the health center and those receiving counseling for HIV and Aids as well as primary school children in the communities.

To be sustainable we are training the farmers on value addition and income generating activities from excess crops in their gardens, they will be able to purchase new seeds for continual years.

Outcome of Project: 
We successfully trained all three groups on nutrition and all nursery beds are complete with seedlings planted. In total, this project reached 51 households with an average of 7 people per household, a total of approximately 357 people will benefit from this project, with more than half being under the age of 15.

We plan to conduct follow-up training sessions, the first focusing more in depth on nutrition and how to prepare meals using the new crops and another focusing on the sustainability of the project.

The nursery bed for the family gardens in one of the communities. 

Preparing beds for seeds.

After making wells we spread the seeds.

After seeds are spread, you then cover the wells.

They spread ash to deter insects.

Spreading straw to cover the fresh nursery beds.

Watering the new beds.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

50 Years in Uganda

This past week Peace Corps celebrated its 50th Anniversary in Uganda. There were three functions held throughout the country in different regions leading up to the main event in capital. Since we are in the West, we were invited to the Southwest to celebrate in the town of Kisoro. Kisoro, is really south and is within a short car ride to Rwanda and borders the Congo. So the ride to get there was long and took 2 days each way. 

Since Matt isn't here, Ashley decided to go and visit other volunteers for the weekend before heading down south.

First stop for the weekend, Fort Portal.  Time traveled 3 hours by car and bus. Fort Portal is an amazingly modern touristy city; there are paved roads with parking, muzungu (white people restaurants) and a lot of nearby natural sites to visit. Since it is so close, we will be going back again and possibly often.

At one of the Crater Lakes outside of Fort Portal.

View of the villages outside of Fort Portal; you can see the Rwenzori Mountains in the back.

After spending the weekend in Fort Portal , a group of about  10 of us headed to Kisoro. Time traveled 10 or so hours in a van. The positive side, we rode with another volunteer’s organization and they stopped at the equator for us to take pictures and even slowed and stopped when we drove through the outskirts of Queen Elizabeth for us to take pictures.

At the Eqautor

We saw elephants driving through Queen Elizabeth

Passed a channel on the way and saw locals out on boats

Baboons Everywhere

Beautiful view through Queen Elizabeth

Finally we made it to Kisoro. It’s a little colder than I expected, it actually felt a little like fall maybe even the start of winter. The town itself is absolutely beautiful, probably one of the most beautiful places in the country. To get into town you take a road into the mountains that twists and turns and once at the top you go down into a little valley. There are volcanoes (dormant and inactive) surrounding the entire area with three large ones towering in the distance. Some of the volunteers even went on a day hike up one, it took about 8-10 hours; this will be done when Matt returns, no need to do it twice…right?  We spent the week attending the celebration with even an appearance by the U.S. Ambassador, doing some hiking (up a smaller hill), trip to the lake with a bbq, eating some good muzungu food, catching up with other volunteers and even had the chance to attend a parade for Uganda's Independence Day. Overall, amazing trip and when Matt gets back we will be going, thinking maybe for Christmas.

One of the Volcanoes.

Cultural dancing and singing at the 50th Event.

View of the Volcanoes from hike.

View of lake we had a bbq at from hike.

Ugandan Independence Day Parade; this is a just the band, there were probably 500 people in the actual parade.

Almost forgot about the trip back home. Coming back we took a different route that let me out in a town approximately a hour to an hour and a half from home. Being dropped of in the middle of no where, I was instantly bombarded by boda men (motorcycle transport guys who really want to give you a ride). Luckily, a lady who got off with me showed me the way to the taxi park. The downside when I arrived at the taxi taxis were going to my town, figures. My only options: take a taxi car or a motorcycle, only real option taxi car. It only took a second to find the one car headed towards my town. I should know by now when they say "we will leave soon" it really means "we will not leave for a good amount of time, just relax and get comfortable". That's what I did, I got in the passenger seat sat down and waited. Luckily there was a young boy already in the backseat with his older brother that kept me company. Remember, there are 4 passenger seats in a car usually and the driver kept saying we only need two more and we will leave. Well two people came and we still weren't leaving. Finally another, there were five of us and we started to leave, but I should have known it was too good to be true. Apparently, someone needed to be picked up from their house. Ok, so I'm sitting in the front with no one else, thankfully, and in the back the boy his brother and four women. Good we can go, but of course we stopped yet again for two more. Now, there is a larger woman in my seat, I'm now sitting on the shifter and another woman is sharing the seat with the driver....can we go now? Yes, we were finally on our way, but wait, what's that? A woman with a baby on a boda (motorcycle); she wants in the taxi. So there you have it folks, 3 in the front plus the driver, five women, one man, one boy and baby in the back down a dirt road filled with boulders and large holes. And I'm not allowed on motorcycles?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Update on Matt

He is back in the U.S. and is very happy he has this time with his family. The stress of training was hard enough adding family crisis made it even harder. Unfortunately, soon after he arrived there was another family medical crisis but thankfully things are looking good.

So as you know, recently the U.S. had it’s first case of Ebola within the country and people are freaking out. Most Americans believe Africa is one big country, but those of us who paid attention in geography know that is not the case. We are living basically the distance of California to probably Virginia to where the Ebola outbreak is. There is not Ebola here at the moment. Still, this does not stop others from believing Matt has brought Ebola with him.

A Somewhat Funny Story:
Matt is in Wal-Mart in his hometown getting some food when he runs into an old family friend. They are discussing all the recent family crisis and Matt’s experiences in Uganda. Afterwards, Matt continues his shopping and a man approaches Matt. “I overheard you say you are a Peace Corps Volunteer”, “Yes, I am” Matt replies. There is a long silence; Matt’s expecting him to say something like “oh that’s awesome my brother/sister did that” or “oh, how do you like it?”, something along those lines. But there is just more silence until the man replies, “....and you were in Uganda?”. At this point Matt has a somewhat good idea where this conversation is going and replies “Yes, I live in Uganda” , more silence. Then the man says, “Well you know they have Ebola over there right now”, Matt, “Sir are you asking me if I have Ebola?”.  The man, “….well I am a concerned American Citizen and well, I want to know if you have Ebola”. Conversation over, Matt walks away. Things that happen at Wal-Mart in small towns; we are pretty sure half of the town knows there is someone who came from Africa and that he probably brought Ebola. .....

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Matt’s Headed to the U.S.

Over the past few months Matt’s family have been through a lot of medical issues and have lost someone very important. We had originally planned on sending him home over Christmas break to see everyone, but more medical complications arose and we decided it would be best for him to be with his family during these hard times.

Anyone who has lost someone or had family members suffering from severe illnesses knows how stressful it can be. Add to that being thousands of miles away and it can start to wear on you; it's a hopeless feeling. It seems like every time he has spoken with his family it has been more bad news and we can only hope things will get better.  He had to take leave and will be in the U.S. for just about a month and we are happy he gets this time to spend with everyone.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Miracles do Happen

Earlier this week we experience something we did not expect we would during these 2 years; we have heard stories of similar events with the outcomes not ending well.

Ashley’s Story of the Miracle:
I was sitting in the break-room with my co-workers eating lunch when one of the health center workers came in and started talking to my director. The only words I could translate were: mother, baby, emergency and call police. My mind started to wonder, what has happened? Has a mother died giving birth, the baby or worse yet both the mother and the baby.  I sat and listened to everyone as they started discussing and I could tell by the looks on their faces this was something more serious. And it was indeed, a baby was in a latrine in a nearby home.

The police were called and as we waited I wondered what can I do, can I do anything? I hadn’t been where everyone was gathered because of fear of the inevitable outcome. But, me being me, I told myself you need to go and see what you can do to help. When I arrived there was already a large group gathered at the site. The baby, who we later found out was born just hours before during the night, had been placed down the latrine of a family living behind the health center property. The only way he had been discovered was by a young boy who went home for lunch and heard cries while he went to the restroom. By this time the cries had stopped and everyone had a gut feeling that the chances of survival at this point were slim.

Once the police came, the decision on how to retrieve the baby started, do we rip up the foundation and possible risk the concrete falling down and crushing the infant or do we dig. Time was not on our side and digging would take a lot of man power and time. The decision was ultimately to dig, and the men started beside the back of the latrine structure. The goal was to get down under the foundation where a layer of bricks support to structure. As the men started to dig, the latrine started to shake and I only could hope the structure wouldn't collapse because at this point we still didn't know the status of the baby.

After a few minutes of digging I heard a woman yell, “I can hear a cry”. Could this be true could the baby be alive? They called for me to come over and I leaned in and I could hear it, a faint cry coming from down the hole. I called for a flashlight and peered down, and that's when I saw him, he was floating on top of what appeared to be a cavarra on his back with his little legs and arms moving slowly. He was alive and we needed to act fast. This is when “let’s get him out and soon” mode kicked in.  Since there was not much I could do on the digging side, I called for the medical staff.  Emergency preparedness is not a concept that most Ugandans have, in many cases when an accident occurs a person will lose their life due to the lack of knowledge on how to deal with such situations. I then hurried to coordinate staff to be ready to receive the baby and made sure a team was waiting nearby to provide any first aid. I then called Matt, you remember the incubator he assembled not long ago, so he could prepare the staff and incubator to receive the baby. At this point my heart was racing, the baby was alive and we were so close to getting him out. As the men continued digging I went in search of a blanket, bucket and water. This baby had been stuck in basically the sewer for 4 hours already that we knew of; who knows how long it had actually been.  After gathering all the items and staff I went back over to the digging site, they were almost to the brick line and it wouldn't be long now.

I ran over to peer down the hole to check the baby’s status, still moving no cries; still it was a good sign, we need to hurry. The next thought was how are we going to get him? They had first said they would use a ladder, but after seeing how far down he really was it was out of the question.  “A rope”, I told one of the staff members, “we need rope”.  Just as the men reached the brick layer a man appeared with rope but now who was going to go down and rescue him? Out of the crowd a man appeared and started to get ready, they spent some time fixing the rope and a bucket but within a few minutes he was ready to go down. Slowly, they lowered him down into hole. My biggest fear, the structure collapsing and this selfless man loosing his life risking it to save another. After a few minutes we heard screams from the hole to lower the bucket, and then we all waited gathered around as the bucket appeared. The rest is all a blur. We received the baby and immediately started to tend to him. His breathing was good and besides a few little scraped and skin discoloration from being cold and in fluids for the past hours he seemed to be in stable condition. We rushed him to the health center where he received further care and was given antibiotics and placed into the incubator. The baby was alive, he was the first miracle I had seen and he was given a second chance at life when no one believed it possible.

Now due to the fact that this case is still open and under investigation I cannot go into any further details outside of what I have told. The most important thing, he is alive and doing well and the doctor believes he will live a normal healthy life. Everyone refers to him as my baby, they even asked me to name him. Baby Emmanuel is the name I gave him, Daniel Emmanuel; they even have a name in Runyoro that fits the meaning, miracle. So that’s my story and it’s an event I do not think I will ever forget. It’s not that often in life you get to see a true miracle and I am grateful I was able to be a part of his. 

Baby Emmanuel